Volunteering: More about getting than giving?

International volunteering is a good way to give back to communities, but sometimes the volunteers are receiving more than what they put into the work. It is encouraged to learn and grow from work abroad, but sometimes the volunteers will only help out on things that would improve their own skills.

Last summer, I went to Belize with an international volunteering company for teenagers. I learned a lot about what it means to be a volunteer, including how I can limit my cloud of vision on how I want  things to go. Although it is fun to travel around the world and help out the local communities, problems can arise if the volunteers aren’t educated in what they are doing. 

International volunteering with children for a short period of time without experience often causes more harm than good. Teenagers helping young children in Belize how to read and write may not be as helpful as a certified teacher teaching them. Coming into a service trip having the mindset that you are going to change the world is not the most productive. The purpose of a volunteer trip is to listen to what the locals need and provide help, whether that be through your resources or your time. Being a good volunteer is more than doing every job on the trip, it is to diligently work for the betterment of the community. 

Volunteer work is an exchange of time to product, even though the volunteers won’t receive a physical product, they do receive skills. Even if people believe they haven’t learned anything, they probably have. Skills like patience, good work ethic, and communication are learned and mastered through volunteering. 

 My volunteer program was three weeks of working at a local summer camp for kids aged 2 to 13 where we would teach local Belizean kids reading, writing, and math. For the most part we were teaching the class, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. with an hour and a half of math and an hour and a half for language arts. I was not a certified teacher or trained, but I was teaching a class of ten ten-year-olds about the rules of multiplication and division. Although I helped in some way it may not be as big as I think. 

Think again when you are planning a volunteer trip; is this program working with the local community, what are my duties going to be during this trip, and how do I make sure I’m respecting them and their community? Being involved in your volunteer trip is the best way to make sure you are doing what is best for the community.